Tali: I want more time.
Last night, at the ripe hour of 5:30am, I completed Mass Effect 3. The ending was ... yeah.
This post is spoilerific, kids. I'd highly advise that if you have not completed Mass Effect 3 skip this post until you do.
Spoilers follow. Do not read unless you are ready. Assuming direct control.
The one thing I'll miss most is Tali.
She's such an endearing character with so many memorable lines and stories. Her romance arc is simply, in my view, the most heartfelt and believable. She suffers and fights and in the end the only request she makes, the only thing she wants is the one thing she's wanted all along: more time with Shepard. It's unfair that the universe lets her find Shepard only to so cruelly rip them apart. Now that's the stuff that sticks with you. And it kills me inside to know that because I took her to London with me, she perished in Harbinger's attack. Keelah se'lai, Tali'Zorah vas Normandy
Let's backtrack a bit.
The final act of Mass Effect 3 sees Shepard gather his allies and head to Earth, where the Citadel has been moved (by the Reapers). In tow is the Crucible, the ultimate weapon. What follows is a tense two hours of non-stop combat as Shepard and his crew fight to save Earth. You battle through the ruins of London, meet up with Anderson and his resistance fighters, and make a final, devastating push for the Reaper beam (a teleporter to the Citadel) to save the galaxy.
Harbinger, the most powerful Reaper (and the same Reaper from Mass Effect 2 who says, "Assuming direct control.") disengages from the fleet and makes for Shepard. What follows is ambiguous at best ...
Harbinger lands at the beam and attacks Shepard's forces as they storm the field. It is shown (and stated in the cutscene that follows) that everyone is killed ... the team is annihilated. Shepard survives miraculously (albeit in a pretty sorry state) and continues on to the beam where he is transported into the belly of the Citadel. Anderson also makes it, but there they encounter the Illusive Man who has undergone a Reaper transformation ... he's become at least partially Reaper and is clearly indoctrinated. The cutscene that follows winds up with the eventual death of Anderson at either the Illusive Man's hand or from his wounds (inflicted by Shepard, but controlled by the Illusive Man). Anderson passes away and Shepard is whisked to what seems like the outer skin of the Citadel, where he meets the Catalyst. Whether this is really the Catalyst is up for debate, as it never identifies itself as such, but it does take the ghost-like form of the boy who died in the first Earth attack (and haunted Shepard ever since).
The ghost gives Shepard two or three options, depending on your readiness score. Here's how you can tell what endings are available to you. And here are versions of the three endings for your consumption. There is a bonus bit at the end if you have a readiness score of 5000 or more (remember that your Galactic Readiness percentage modifies your Asset count, so if you 50% Readiness, you'll need 10,000 Assets) - fast forward to 7:55 to see it. After your choice, a small scene plays where it shows the fate of the Reapers and Earth, as well as the Normandy escaping a wave of energy and crash-landing on a planet. Then, after the credits, there's a short scene with an old man and a young boy gazing at the stars and telling stories of 'the Shepard.'
So, what the fuck happened?
I've scoured the internet and one of the best explanations I've seen came from here. It pretty much sums up as this:
Shepard and his team are hit by Harbinger's attack.
Shepard is either hallucinating the final act or is a target of an indoctrination attack.
The scenes in the Citadel are designed to lure Shepard into allowing the Reapers to live.
The three endings: control, synthesis, and destruction are the three options left to Shepard - in reality, there is only one option. Destruction.
I believe a large part of that explanation. After Harbinger's attack, you can notice several clues about what happened ... Shepard should, by all rights, be incinerated, but he's able to walk, talk, and even shoot a gun. About that gun ... it's got infinite ammo. That's never happened before. Also, Anderson just happened to make it up to the Citadel too? Isn't that a little ... convenient? After the Illusive Man dies, Shepard struggles to make it to the console and then is lifted to the outer shell (open to space) of the Citadel ... where he meets a ghost kid. If you listen closely to the child's speech, you can almost hear the Reaper behind it. The child is also the same one that died early on, and haunts Shepard's dreams. And in the final dream Shepard sees himself and the child reunited, bursting into flames. That could mean one of two things: go with the child and suffer destruction, or save the child by flames ... ie, save the galaxy by destroying the Reapers. The choices the ghost presents are pretty stark: control the Reapers (after Shepard just told the Illusive Man that you cannot control them), perform synthesis and merge all organic and synthetic life, and finally, destroy the Reapers, along with every other synthetic lifeform in the galaxy. In all scenarios, the mass effect relays will be destroyed, basically returning the galaxy to a pre-Reaper state. Let's analyze these choices. They are presented in order of how damaging it would be to Harbinger and the Reapers.
Control, obviously, is the best outcome for Harbinger. Through the control option, the Reapers would not only survive, but also eliminate a dangerous threat and continue their mission. This ending reminds me a LOT of Jade Empire's 'Sacrifice' ending where the villain tricks the main character into giving his own life for peace.
Synthesis allows the Reapers to complete their objective and retreat without facing annihilation. The merging of synthetics and organics would accomplish the 'final evolution' of life and provide two things - 1) an end to hostilities and 2) a populace open to indoctrination (being partially synthetic). While not as good for the Reapers as 'Control' it's still preferable to the third option.
Destruction is presented as the bleakest of all outcomes by Harbinger (acting as the child). The ghost reminds Shepard that all synthetic life will be destroyed, including himself (who we can surmise has a little bit of Reaper tech in him due to Cerberus' revivification program). EDI would also potentially be a target. It also could result in the destruction of Earth if your War Assets and EMS are not over a certain amount (2000, I believe). This is the worst possible outcome for the Reapers and must be avoided at all costs.
So which should Shepard choose?
While "on the Citadel" Shepard is the target of an indoctrination attack. Harbinger is bringing his full weight to bear on Shepard to prevent the annihilation of the Reapers. Harbinger is the Reapers' only chance to survive and it knows this. It is my full belief that Shepard never made it to the Citadel at all; he survived Harbinger's laser and was immediately targeted by the Reapers. The Citadel wasn't the Catalyst, nor the ghost ... all along, it was Shepard. Shepard is the missing piece of the Crucible that allows it to fire. It's his will and determination, and possible exposure to Reaper and Prothean tech, that will decide the fate of the galaxy, just as was told to us from the beginning - Shepard truly was the only man in the galaxy capable of defeating the Reapers. The bonus part of the ending confirms as much, as Shepard is clearly lying in the wreckage of the London attack (and there's no asphalt on the space station).
The only real solution is to destroy the Reapers. Harbinger paints a convincing picture of how the Reapers can be controlled or synthesized, but that leaves the galaxy open to their depredations and/or possible indoctrination again. Shepard even told the Illusive Man that he's 'playing with powers beyond his comprehension.' Why would he tell the Illusive Man this, then immediately try to control the Reapers? It's clearly an indoctrination attack by Harbinger. If your readiness score is high enough, the destructive wave will destroy the Reapers and nothing else. If it is low ... you'll reduce Earth to a cinder and kill everyone on-planet, including your remaining team.
The part afterwards is even more confusing; the Normandy is shown either outrunning the relay explosion or the attack facing the Reapers. They do not make it and are pulled into some weird vortex and then transported to a jungle planet. The Normandy crashes and some of the crew wander outside, specifically Joker, your love interest, and one of the team members from the ground assault. For me, it was Joker, Tali (to which I breathed a heavy sigh of relief), and Garrus (who accompanied me to London). What planet is this? Where are they? How did Tali and Garrus get aboard? These questions are never answered. Was it a hallucination? My head says 'Yes.' My head told me that no one made it out of London alive and that was Shepard's own mind making peace with itself.
Now, that's what my head tells me. My heart says something different.
My heart tells me that Shep really survived the laser attack. He then struggled on to the Citadel and met Anderson and the Illusive Man. After that confrontation, he is then targeted by Harbinger and 'transported' to the exterior hull of the Citadel where he has to make a choice. In my game, he chose to destroy the Reapers. At this point, in my heart, things get a little wonky. Following his choice, Shepard is, somehow, teleported back down to the planet surface on the wave of energy that emanates from the Crucible. He's deposited in the wreckage where his teammates (for me, that'd be Tali and Garrus) find him. We know that the blast from the relay would take a while to get to Earth, so Joker could have brought the Normandy down and picked up the survivors (explaining why Tali and Garrus were onboard when it crashed). The blast from the relay may create an anomaly that would theoretically generate a mass effect field that could potentially put the Normandy anywhere in the universe (yeah, that's a lot of speculation and reaching for straws). Then Shepard and his merry band colonize the planet and live happily ever after on their jungle world. Tali and Shepard can finally be together.
My head is calling my heart a pussy.
Deep down, I know that they all died saving the galaxy, but I'm not ready to give up on Tali and Shepard yet. It's just ... wrong. But then again, it was never portrayed as being fair, was it? My personal feeling is that this ending got a little too "Inception-y" ... they'd have been better served being more straightforward about what happened. But kudos to BioWare for trying to indoctrinate the player ... the choices they presented were very difficult.
Tali: I want more time.
Me too, Tali. Me too.